Requires Photography

Shawabty fragment of Queen Seshena ?

Nubian
Napatan Period, reign of Queen Seshena
653–623 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Meroe, Beg. S. 132

Dimensions

Overall: 5.5 x 2.5 cm (2 3/16 x 1 in.)

Accession Number

21.16632

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty fragment possibly belonging to Queen Seshena. When complete, Queen Seshena’s shawabtys consist of a female figure wearing a tripartite wig. There is one framed column of incised text on the front of the figure and another on the back. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned left above right. One hoe is held in the right hand resting on the right shoulder and the left hand holds a cord to a small rounded bag depicted in raised relief slung over the left shoulder. This fragment is a legs fragment that is much larger in size than all others of Queen Sheshena. There is text on both the front and the back. Two lines frame the left side of the text on the front. Under the red dirt encrustation, the fragment is a chaulky white color.

The ancient Nubians included shawabtys in their tombs only in the Napatan Period, about 750–270 B.C. These funerary figurines are based on Egyptian shawabtys, but differ from them in many features of their iconography. For instance, the known Nubian examples are only from royal tombs. Also, they have unique texts, implements, and poses and are known to have the largest number of shawabtys included in one tomb. Their function, it is assumed, was the same as that of the Egyptian shawabty, namely to magically animate in the Afterlife in order to act as a proxy for the deceased when called upon to tend to field labor or other tasks. This expressed purpose was sometimes written on the shawabty itself in the form of a “Shawabty Spell,” of which versions of various lengths are known. Shorter shawabty inscriptions could also just identify the deceased by name and, when applicable, title(s). However, many shawabtys carry no text at all. The ideal number of such figurines to include in a tomb or burial seems to have varied during different time periods.

Provenance

From Nubia (Sudan), Meroe Beg. S. 132 (tomb of Queen Seshena). 1921: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition